We lost my Grandmom this week, just a few weeks before what would have been her 99th birthday. There’s a part of all of us, I think, that had been hoping she would have made it to 99, even 100 and maybe beyond. Indeed, I always joked with my aunt that she would outlive all of us and at times, it seemed like she was on track to do just that. Here she is above, with my grandfather, who passed away in August 1990. I was one of the speakers at her funeral, along with my dear cousins, and here’s what I shared with our family and friends as my eulogy.
My grandfather “wasn’t doing well” that summer. In those days, in the sultry summer of 1990, people had just started saying the word cancer in octaves higher than a whisper. And in those days, eyebrows were still raised when women “of a certain age” exerted some degree of independence.
My feisty, stubborn as heck, petite grandmother was living alone, at 77 years old, in the rowhouse where she and her husband had raised three children – and mourned their middle child, that being my father. My grandfather’s illness had advanced to the point where it was time for a nursing home, where my grandmother was determined to visit him every day, despite the fact that she didn’t drive.
(And even if she did, their one car was an immobile turquoise and white 1957 Chevy held together literally with string and duct-tape, parked like a Franklin Mint collectible on a rough-ride of a narrow street in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood that had already seen many better days even by 1990.)
Determined, my grandmother took a maze of public transportation to reach the nursing home – one bus, two buses, three in all. Maybe the elevated subway system was part of it; I don’t know. Maybe there were more; my memory of the public transportation logistics is fuzzy now. What’s crystal clear is that as she navigated the City of Brotherly Love’s network of tracks and wheels, she was teaching me something about love.
At the time all this was happening, I was a self-absorbed college student with a bit of a messed up triangulated (and other applied terms from my psychology classes) love life. I remembered being in awe of my grandmother’s ability to even figure out the bus routes when I – a sheltered suburbanite – could count on one hand the number of times I had been on my city’s public transportation system. I whined when I had to traverse my college campus in the rain, and here my grandmother was taking three buses a day just so she could go spoon-feed her husband his dinner and to be there to be the one to tell him good night.
That, there, I realized, was love.
So I took a good look at the guy I was dating at the time and asked myself if this was an individual who would ride three buses every single day just to give me a bottle of Ensure as I was dying.
And the answer was … eh, yeah not so much.
As these things tend to go, there was another guy biding his time, waiting in the wings. I asked myself the same question. Is this someone who I thought was Three-Bus Worthy? Who thought I might be Three-Bus Worthy?
And the answer this time on both counts was …yeah, maybe so.
(That one would wind up becoming The Husband, who I would start dating officially only mere days before my grandfather passed away.)
Now, with my grandmother’s passing this week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this over the past couple days, and I realized that her lesson of making sure someone is Three Bus Worthy is still true. It’s not one she ever verbalized or one we ever spoke about, but rather one that was silently shared. Like any long-term marriages, ours has seen times and situations where the other’s Three-Bus Worthiness has been proven and put to the test. Then again, there have been other times when we’ve been stubborn enough that we didn’t even want to take three steps – let alone three damn buses – to reach the other person’s side.
We’re among the lucky ones, though, because when it comes right down to it, each one of us is on a journey and a ride in life that is similar to the one involving the three buses that my grandmother took every day. Because let’s face it: this life is tough enough as it is with the everyday stuff. It’s when the big guns come calling – the stuff of children dying (as both sets of my grandparents would experience) and spouses getting sick (ditto), that’s when you find out just how Three-Bus Worthy someone really is.
And most likely, you already know – because that’s the person who been holding your hand during the ride all along.
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